LONDON (7th November 2010)

Synergy represented by:

from left to right: Simon Grant, Andrew Busher, Gerry O’Beirne, Mike Dore, Heather Cairncross, Amanda Morrison, Rachel Weston, Micaela Haslam

Left to right: Simon Grant, Andrew Busher, Gerry O’Beirne, Mike Dore, Heather Cairncross, Amanda Morrison, Rachel Weston, Micaela Haslam

“Once again we had just one rehearsal for our Sinfonia with LSO – at London’s Barbican this time.  After our Berlin triumph in September, it felt as though we’d been doing the piece together for years, and I get the feeling that Daniel Harding (conductor) will be doing the piece again before too long.  He definitely had the look of a Sinfonia addict by the end of his 2nd performance.  It’s a look similar to that of someone coming to the end of a giant rollercoaster ride at the fairground.

Apart from Sinfonia the main excitement of the concert was that Lang Lang had pulled out (presumably due to illness) and was replaced at very short notice by Alice Sara Ott for Liszt’s Piano Concerto No.1. Apparently she did a fabulous job, and she’s only 22!

It is very rare that Sinfonia is the first piece in an orchestral programme, so I hope the LSO will forgive us when I confess that we headed straight for the pub following our contribution to their concert.  To be honest, it would have been tricky to find a seat in the audience because the concert was extremely well-attended.

No post-concert revelries in the hotel bar to report, because of course we all went home.  Still, we were thrilled to see the reviews, and even more delighted to be invited back to perform with LSO in 2011.  See you then!”


Barbican, London

Luciano Berio Sinfonia
LSO conducted by Daniel Harding
November 2010

“Synergy Vocals did remarkable things with both the barrage of Beckett and with Berio’s sad rage at the assassination of Martin Luther King”
The Guardian

“Since 1968 Sinfonia has enjoyed numerous outings…this one was a particular success.  The vocalists are required to recite not only words but create many effects, all valiantly and effortlessly delivered by Synergy Vocals with confidence and interaction, the voice-amplified balance especially well-judged, coordination between the octet and the orchestra spot-on.  This was a Berio Sinfonia to be proud of.”

ABERDEEN (23rd October 2010)

Synergy Vocals represented by

Heather and Micaela

Heather Cairncross (left), Micaela Haslam

“I flew to Aberdeen the night before the concert to take advantage of the cheaper flight + extra hotel night combo, rather than the more expensive (very early start) flight on the day.

Johnston Hall set up for Drumming

Little did I know that I would have the noisiest room in Aberdeen – right next to a busy pub on a Friday night. When the drunken exchanges outside my window finally petered out at around 2.30am, I had about 3 hours peace before the bin lorries and street cleaners started up!  So, the morning of the concert, instead of feeling refreshed after my bonus lie-in, I was absolutely knackered!  I crawled down to breakfast, where I met Aidy looking a bit like I felt.  He had a better excuse though – he’d been propping up the hotel bar until 2am with Tony.  I would have joined them if I’d known!

Heather and several of the players arrived on the day of the concert and we all headed out to the University.  Johnston Hall is a big square room, a bit like a gymnasium, giving plenty of room for the instruments to be spread out across the “stage”.  Our in-house sound engineer (Aled Edwards) did an excellent job, and we worked through the piece until the balance was sorted.

Joby (left) and Colin discussing phasing tactics

There was nowhere to go really between rehearsal and concert, so we all hung around chatting, eating sarnies (kindly provided by the Festival) and sharing silly You Tube favourites on Iphones.

During the rehearsal I enquired about advance ticket sales.  I think they’d sold about 30 which was a bit worrying, but on the night not only did the concert sell out, there were more people than there were seats in the building – even after they’d raided our dressing area for every chair they could find.  It was packed!

As Steve Reich always says, “you play better when you play with friends”, and this concert was proof of that statement.  There’s not a dull moment with these guys.  We’d had such a laugh all day, everyone was in the mood for a concert and this performance was excellent.  The speed was just right, the pacing was spot on, the players were all relaxed, and they gave each other plenty of room to “breathe” during the phasing and transitions.  It really was great – and the audience absolutely loved it.  I’m so pleased that we’ve already got 5 more of these Drumming concerts in the diary for 2011.  I’m looking forward to them already.

Left to right: Tony, Owen and Aidy trying to look cool

After post-concert drinks and food at the venue (very much appreciated), we were led off to a dodgy pub on Union Street by Owen.  Apparently women weren’t allowed in at all until 1975, and there was no female toilet until 1998!  To be honest, I’m not sure it’s a pub I’d frequent on a regular basis.  It was mostly full of rowdy blokes drinking whisky (500 malts to choose from, apparently) in a very stark room, shouting at each other at the tops of their voices.  The lighting seemed more conducive to interrogation than a chilled night out with mates, and chatting at 100 decibels left my voice in shreds the following morning – but none of that stopped us having a good time – always guaranteed on these gigs!”


Compulsory grease and chips after a night on the whiskies. From left to right: Tony, Richard, Aidy, Colin, Joby, Tom, Alex

Compulsory grease and chips after a night on the whiskies - Left to right: Tony, Richard, Aidy, Colin, Joby, Tom, Alex

Berlin, Germany

Luciano Berio Sinfonia
LSO conducted by Daniel Harding
September 2010

“This was a superb performance, perceptive and controlled with considerable appeal.”

BERLIN (3rd September 2010)

Synergy Vocals represented by

From left to right: Michael Dore, Andrew Busher, Amanda Morrison, Rachel Weston, Heather Cairncross, Micaela Haslam, Gerard O’Beirne, Simon Grant

Left to right: Michael Dore, Andrew Busher, Amanda Morrison, Rachel Weston, Heather Cairncross, Micaela Haslam, Gerard O’Beirne, Simon Grant

“Our first rehearsal with the LSO at St Luke’s in London turned out to be our only rehearsal for this performance of Sinfonia. Daniel Harding (conductor) was new to the piece but you wouldn’t have known it. He and the orchestra were in excellent shape before we showed up to put them all off. We ran through the piece, covered a few tricky corners, and that was that.

Most of the orchestra headed off to do another concert in Leipzig, then we all met up 2 days later in Berlin. Synergy Vocals arrived the night before the concert in order to be available for an early sound check at the Philharmonie, so we had a bonus free evening in Berlin. The view from our hotel windows wasn’t quite what we had in mind..

View from hotel window

..and we tried not to think about what the following morning had in store for us as we headed out for a nice Italian meal just round the corner from our hotel.

Well, you couldn’t make it up! The crashing and banging started at around 7am so there was no need for early alarm calls. And there was no point trying to make up for it with an afternoon nap as, by this stage, the whole place looked as though it was mid-earthquake with huge clouds of masonry dust enveloping our hotel. Nice!

In the run up to the concert week, I’d discussed both with the LSO and the Philharmonie the importance of the Sinfonia sound engineer, who can literally make or break a performance. It’s not just about controlling what the audience hears (which is obviously crucial), but also what the singers on stage hear. There are times when we are singing so quietly it is barely audible, and we don’t really need the on-stage monitors at all. The danger is that singers react to a loud foldback volume by singing quieter and quieter until they stall! Equally, when the orchestra is playing at full tilt, we need to be able to hear ourselves (and each other). So, the sound engineer needs to know the score and understand the requirements of both the piece and the performers. At our sound check, it soon became apparent that Simon at the Philharmonie knew exactly what he was doing. He picked out all the crucial moments of the piece and sorted out the different levels within just a few minutes. We were in safe hands.

As expected, the LSO played Sinfonia brilliantly in the concert, and Daniel poured his heart and soul into the performance. It’s easy to take the LSO for granted but it really is a world-class orchestra. As usual in this piece, I was hearing things I’d never heard before. The score is so dense, it’s a never-ending voyage of discovery for both listener and performer. I must mention the leader Roman Simovic’s short fiendish amplified solo – absolutely brilliant – and he made it sound easy, which clearly it isn’t!

Drinks and nibbles were laid on in the foyer after the concert – always nice. We chatted to players and members of the audience whilst waiting (somewhat ravenously) for the food. I mentioned to someone that the sound engineer (Simon) had been marvellous. You mean “Simon Stockhausen?”, came the reply. That’ll be why he knew what he was doing then! We never actually met him – he was just a voice from the sound desk. So, if you’re reading this, Simon – thank you so much on behalf of all the Sinfonia singers. Great job! Thanks too to the LSO, who managed to make us feel like old friends in the space of just one rehearsal. We look forward very much to our next concert with them in the Barbican on November 7th.”


Carnegie Hall, New York

Louis Andriessen La Commedia
Asko Schoenberg conducted by Reinbert de Leeuw
April 2010

“Synergy Vocals contributed formidably: the choir, in a way, personified Dante as much (and as vividly) as Ms Zavalloni did.”
The New York Times

“As engrossing as the soloists were, it is the chorus and ensemble who carry the biggest weight in La Commedia, and Synergy Vocals and the Asko Schoenberg ensemble were more than up to the task. These are some of the best performers in the new music world – indeed in all of classical music – and they proved their mettle on Thursday night, tackling a work full of wide, sudden contrasts..from the most highly energetic, rock/jazz tinged music, to thorny dissonances, to minimalist grooves, ironic pastiche and sublime beauty all within often tiny spans of time”

“Synergy Vocals provided a strong foundation, engaging with the characters of “The Divine Comedy” as they journeyed from the City of Dis to Paradiso, covering a libretto in four different languages (English, Dutch, Latin, Italian) along the way”
Wall Street Journal

NEW YORK (15th April 2010)

Synergy represented by

L-R: Micaela Haslam, Amanda Morrison, Heather Cairncross, Rachel Weston, Gerard O’Beirne, Andrew Busher, Paul Charrier, Gabriel Gottlieb

“Our arrival into New York was slightly chaotic. We’d flown from LA, separately from the players and arriving at a different terminal of JFK. Little did we know how complicated it could be, and how long it would take to hook up with the players’ bus, but we got there in the end – only to find ourselves on what seemed like a Thomson Holiday coach tour. As the journey from the airport progressed, our “tour rep” tried to sell the city to us but only got himself into deeper and deeper water, insisting that New York was the cultural centre of the world with the best musicians in the world and the best concert halls in the world etc. When he finally asked us all whether we wanted him to shut up, he was met with a resounding “yes please” – but he carried on anyway. I still have no idea who he was or why he was there!

Pennsylvania Hotel

Downtown Manhattan

After a long day, we were pleased to arrive at the Pennsylvania hotel, just round the corner from Macy’s – pleased that is until the lifts opened onto the upstairs corridors, which were dark and dingy and lined with what looked like reinforced prison doors. The smell of damp and putrid air freshener was overwhelming, and the rooms were indescribably horrible. A couple of the soloists immediately moved to another hotel. There was nothing diva-like in this protest whatsoever; the Pennsylvania was simply the worst place any of us had ever seen. Check it out on Trip Advisor if you don’t believe me…

The rest of us decided that we could just about bear it for 2 nights, then headed straight out for food and wine. The following morning gave us a bit of time for shopping, then we were straight into the dress rehearsal in Carnegie Hall.

Dress rehearsal

Reinbert de Leeuw (conductor)

It is a rare treat to perform in Stern Hall. You can’t help thinking of all the thousands of world-class stars who have played and sung there, and it is unquestionably a fabulous space. Our high spirits were dashed a little when we found ourselves positioned immediately behind the horns, who have a lot to do in La Commedia – much of it very loud! There were no baffles in the building, but we were happy to make do with a large board covered in a black cloth – anything to spare our ear drums.

Claron McFaddon (my favourite soprano)

The biggest treat was having Claron McFaddon in our midst. In Disney Hall, there were audience seats behind the stage and she was perched up at the top there, but there is no such space in Carnegie Hall so she was next to us towards the back of the stage. Everything Claron has to sing in La Commedia is high (up to top D’s), sustained and hugely exposed – and she makes it look and sound SO easy. I could listen to her all day. Truly sublime singing!

On the phone to AA – no, American Airlines!

Between dress rehearsal and concert, we learned that our flight back to London the following morning had been cancelled due to the ash cloud from the unpronouncable Icelandic volcano. Paul sat for about an hour on Skype trying to get through to someone at AA. We finally concluded that we should show up for check-in at 6am as planned and take it from there.

This concert also went extremely well. A few members of the audience walked out about a third of the way through the piece, but that’s par for the course in New York, and I think a bit of a tradition at Carnegie. Great fun to make a point that you don’t like something new, I’m sure, but a bit of a waste of money if you’ve bought a ticket! Still, you can’t please everybody.

Micaela with Louis Andriessen

Left to right: Gabriel, Paul, Jeroen Willens, Gerry, Andy

The only good thing about the Pennsylvania hotel was that no-one minded leaving it at 5am! On arrival at JFK, we asked for the AA customer service desk – there isn’t one. Not a great start. Fortunately the lady at check-in was very helpful, but all she could do was rebook our flights – four of us in 5 days time, and the rest in 6 days. Then came the bombshell – AA wouldn’t provide any accommodation or subsistence at all.

JFK misery

After an extremely long, somewhat stressful morning at JFK, I managed to secure hotel rooms for our entire party – thanks to Carnegie Hall who made the booking (having tried 50 other hotels!), and Asko|Schönberg who kindly agreed to foot the bill. It was a very odd situation to be in. We had no idea how long we’d be stuck in NYC. Just because we were booked onto later flights, it didn’t mean that they would be going – and in the end none of them did. It was such a shame for Asko|Schönberg. They had another concert scheduled at Carnegie involving more players who were stuck in Amsterdam.


It doesn’t feel like a holiday when you’re stuck somewhere you haven’t chosen to be. Still, there was little we could do except try to enjoy Manhattan as much as possible, whilst spending as little money as possible, and keeping an eye on the ever-changing situation. Most importantly, we took the time to line up as many friends and colleagues as possible who lived within a couple of hours of New York. Members of the Steve Reich ensemble were all SO kind – even those who were unable to help with accommodation. It was such a weight off my mind just knowing they were there. We did a bit more sight-seeing for a few days, interspersed with lot of aimless wandering, and even managed a little birthday party for Gerry.

Gerry’s birthday party

We couldn’t expect Asko to provide any further hotel accommodation, but we were running out of rooms as those of us who should have flown home were still in New York. Rachel befriended a lady at the opera who invited her to go and stay at her pad up the West Side. Gabriel and Paul found digs with distant relatives, Heather hooked up with a friend of a friend, and the rest of us shared the remaining hotel rooms. Just when we had to leave the hotel (and just when I was quite looking forward to going to Garry Kvistad’s place up in the mountains), British air space suddenly reopened and we were able to rebook flights within 24 hours. Finally, we were on our way home!”


Walt Disney Hall, Los Angeles

Louis Andriessen La Commedia
Asko Schoenberg conducted by Reinbert de Leeuw
April 2010

“a spectacularly sung and played performance..the eight Synergy vocalists were inspired scat singers and inspired madrigalists”
Los Angeles Times

“Synergy Vocals provided clear and assured backing throughout”
Out West Arts

LOS ANGELES (13th April 2010)

Synergy represented by

Micaela Haslam, Amanda Morrison, Rachel Weston, Heather Cairncross
Andrew Busher, Gerard O’Beirne, Gabriel Gottlieb, Paul Charrier

“Well, it was touch and go as to whether we’d have any sopranos at all for La Commedia. Poor Mandy got caught up in the US visa system, so by the time Will and I flew to LA on 6th April she still didn’t know whether she’d be coming on this tour or not. Then I went and got a lurgie which got worse and worse, to the point when around 9th April, I couldn’t even speak, never mind sing. Thanks goodness our first “alto”, Rachel, is a soprano in disguise. She was on standby to be the only soprano in the piece – with no rehearsal. No pressure, then! In the meantime, Will and I tried our best to enjoy our few days “holiday” in LA. The Millennium Biltmore hotel is in the downtown area – not quite the same as downtown New York. In LA, everyone goes home to the suburbs after work, so the centre of town is all but dead. That said, there are a few eateries dotted about and, thankfully, a marvellous wholefood store (Ralph’s) where we could stock up on fresh fruit and cereal etc. The Millennium Biltmore used to play host to the Oscars in the early days, and its lavish public rooms have provided the setting for many films, including Ghostbusters, True Lies, Independence Day, Ocean’s 11 and many others. Even the underground pool, modelled on the decks of 1920s luxury cruise-ships such as the Queen Mary, has starred in the movies.

Millennium Biltmore lobby

Filming in the bar

During the day, downtown LA seems to be one big film set. Only in LA-LA Land do you find a couple of enormous pristine Fresian cows hanging around outside a coffee bar. Most streets in this area of LA have been featured at some time or other in Heroes of course (sadly we didn’t bump into Zachary Quinto) – and occasionally you even find yourself in a movie.

Cows on film

Downtown LA

Smile - you're on camera!

We spent a lovely day in Long Beach where we saw preparations for the upcoming Grand Prix, and of course the Queen Mary. It’s unquestionably a wonderful old ship, but we weren’t convinced that its current owners are making the best of it. It is part tourist attraction and part hotel, neither of which seems to be managed with much vision, sadly. The tour is non-existent. You just get lost and stumble into the occasional interesting room or artefact. If I were staying there, I’d hope to experience the glamour of the original ship – not a slightly tacky coffee bar stuck on to one of the decks. Still, the history of the ship is fascinating (best to look up online before you go) and it’s wonderful to imagine all the stars and royalty promenading round the decks.

The Queen Mary

The Promenade Deck

On the way home, our train went past what seemed to be a training yard for telephone mast workers – fascinating!

We also managed to catch up with an ex-Swingle colleague, Jenny Fowler, who lives and works in LA and whom I hadn’t seen for over 15 years – eek! Kimberley Akester (also in the Swingles with us) was staying with Jenny so we got together for a good catch-up, despite the fact that I could only whisper!

Micaela, Jenny and Kimberley

Finally the rest of the gang came out to LA, including Mandy – hurrah! – whose visa had finally shown up the day before she was due to fly. I find it incredible that after all the years we’ve spent to-ing and fro-ing across the Atlantic to do concerts, the US Embassy still have to drag us through the bureaucratic, patronising, officious, nightmare that is the P1 visa application. Surely, after 10 (or even 20!) approved P1 visas, you should be entitled to a life-long version?

Disney Hall

Rehearsing in Disney Hall

Disney Hall is one of my favourite buildings in the world. Designed by Frank Gehry and opened in 2003, it looks as though it’s made of tin foil, twisted into wave-like shapes that reflect the sun like a mirror. It’s stunning on the outside and, I’m very happy to say, equally amazing on the inside. I really enjoy singing here, even with amplified sound. It’s truly a wonderful space. Fortunately for me there was only one day’s rehearsal. Having taken every vocal remedy that Ralph’s and Rite-Aid had to offer (and believe me, there are many!), my larynx crawled slowly back to life as D-day approached. I sang as little as I could get away with during the rehearsal. I’d decided to go for it in the concert on the basis that my voice would either work or it wouldn’t. Goodness knows where the top Db came from at the end of the piece, but it was there. (It would have been even better if the batteries in our radio mics hadn’t packed up by then, but that’s another story!) The orchestra played brilliantly, as ever. La Commedia is a real tour de force for the conductor and players but it’s worth all the effort. It’s a fantastic piece. The soloists, as ever, rose to the occasion, making this concert version (in my opinion) even better than the original production in Amsterdam. The music is so strong, it holds its own without staging and screens, though I was glad to see surtitles for the audience as the piece is in 4 different languages.

Everyone seemed pleased with the show so, flushed with success, we all headed to the nearest Irish Bar for several beers in preparation for our flight to New York the following morning.”

Post concert Synergy